Amid increased voices of discontent from some quarters on the performance of his regime, President Lazarus Chakwera yesterday blew his own trumpet to showcase what he has so far achieved in a quest to fix the economy.
As if responding to critics, the President’s State of the Nation Address (Sona), Fixing the System to Deliver Long-Term Priorities and Defuse Short-Term Pressure at the opening of the Fifth Meeting of the 49th Session of Parliament, cited apparent achievements in three areas of wealth creation, job creation and food security.
The 55-page Sona builds on the 2021-2022 address, which identified the three key areas the Tonse administration is currently focusing on to fix the economy.
Under job creation, Chakwera said his Tonse Alliance administration has so far created 997 423 jobs in both private and public sectors, meaning they are only remaining with 2 577 to fulfil the one million jobs campaign promise.
But the opposition in Parliament doubts the reported figures, demanding documentary evidence, adding that the address “fails to provide immediate solutions to challenges facing Malawians”.
The one million job promise has been a subject of a heavy public debate with many doubting its fulfillment.
Even in the House yesterday, there were interruptive murmurs and boos from the opposition benches when the President mentioned the number of jobs created, a clear sign that they were not convinced.
Nevertheless, the President continued to make more promises on job creation, saying his administration, among other interventions, plans to establish several industrial parks across the country to achieve massive industrialisation.
He said feasibility studies have already been done for two of these projects whose total investment is estimated at $956 million, which will result in the creation of at least 240 000 direct jobs.
The President also reported significant progress on infrastructure development and what his government wants to do to turn around the economy.
He also hailed the achievements the Presidential Delivery Unit (PDU) has made within four months to remove project implementation bottlenecks.
“So far, the PDU has brought together more than 140 people from 40 different organisations, working together to fix system failures and get projects meant for serving Malawians back on track. Of the 192 projects we assessed, 104 were prioritised and worked on.
“One example is the construction of the Comesa Competition Commission and the Comesa Federation of Women in Business complexes. Malawi won the bid to host the two regional institutions in 2013, which would bring $110 million in investment and create 2 000 jobs, but bureaucratic system failures left the project stuck on paper and in meetings for eight years. We fixed those system failures and now construction is scheduled to start this coming fiscal year,” he said.
Chakwera also cited the Nchalo Greenbelt Limited, which is implementing a cotton irrigation project worth K18 billion in investment with the potential to benefit 20 000 farmers and develop 10 000 hectares of land as well as the $ 1 billion 350 megawatts Mpatamanga Hydropower Plant.
The President believes that implementing these projects ties to the government’s three priority areas of wealth creation, job creation and food security to the Agenda 2063; hence, the need to fix the systems.
Chakwera decried what he called broken and dysfunctional systems in the public service, which has made it difficult for his government to achieve more even with the best of brains at the helm of leadership in various institutions.
On corruption, which was one of the most anticipated issues, Chakwera spoke passionately about the need for governance institutions such as the Office of the Attorney General, Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to work together if the fight against corruption is to be won.
Reacting to the President’s address, Leader of Opposition Kondwani Nankhumwa said it is difficult to believe that government has created 900 000 jobs in the absence of documentary evidence.
While the opposition seems dissatisfied, major development partners, both Britain and the European Union (EU), find a lot of positives in the President’s address, saying it provides fresh hope in improving the economy as well as dealing with corruption and other governance-related concerns.
British High Commissioner David Beer said the speech brings some optimism, especially with the emphasis on bringing on board the private sector to help create jobs as this can help turn around the economy.
He also said it was encouraging to hear the President making serious pronouncements on the fight against corruption and that the United Kingdom (UK) is ready to work with Malawi as it has always done.
Beer said: “The UK stands in support of the President’s anti-corruption agenda and we look forward to law enforcing agencies to do their job. I heard the President say he is committed to resourcing the governance institutions and that is very encouraging.”
EU Ambassador Rune Skinnebach said though this was his first Sona to listen to as an envoy to Malawi, he was impressed to hear the President talk about fixing the system, including good governance, as this can open more taps of funding from development partners, including resumption of direct budget support.
“We are aware, as is the IMF [International Monetary Fund], that direct budget support can help fix the tight fiscal space facing Malawi. But it is not really our call to start providing this support. It is up to Malawi to fulfil the set criteria,” he said.